How ‘Art and Craft’ Began as a Mystery Caper and Became a Compelling Portrait of Mental Illness

art and craft landis

There is an exciting new documentary in the works that caught my eye recently while perusing Kickstarter. It’s called Art and Craft and is directed by Sam Cullman, an Oscar nominee for his work with Marshall Curry on If a Tree Falls (his other film credits, as cinematographer or camera operator, include Street Fight, Why We Fight, The House I Live In, King Corn, What Would Jesus Buy?, Big River and recent Sundance winner Watchers of the Sky), and Jennifer Grausman, an Emmy nominee for directing Pressure Cooker.

The subject of the film is Mark Landis, one of the most prolific art forgers of all time, with a 30-year history of gifting (not selling) his fakes to museums and other institutions around the country. As a fan of pretty much any art doc, I’m definitely looking forward to this one, but it also seems to be something more than the usual discourse on the nature of what is fine art. After I reached out to them about how and why they decided to make a film about Landis, Cullman and Grausman emailed me the following details on the evolution of the project:

“Three years ago we met through mutual friends and discovered that we had a lot in common, both as filmmakers and as native New Yorkers engaged in the arts (early on, Jen had worked in development at MoMA and Sam as a screenprinter with lofty ideas about a career in Public Art). When The New York Times published an article about Mark Landis, one of the most prolific art forgers in U.S. history, we were hooked from the start by it’s unusual premise: a talented art forger who wasn’t in it for the money. And when the Times described him as ‘at large,’ we knew we had to track him down.

“Remarkably, Mark Landis was hiding in plain sight at his mother’s house in Mississippi. He was immediately captivating — and determined at first to understand his motivations, we hung on Mark’s every word for clues: Was he a disgruntled artist trying to get back [at] an art world that had rejected him? Was he a kind of Robin Hood for the arts bringing great works to the masses? Or was he perpetrating an elaborate art prank to question notions of originality, authenticity and authorship?

“In some ways it would prove to be all of these things — and in the end, also somewhat besides the point. Mark, as it turns out, is a diagnosed schizophrenic and it became obvious that his drive to engage in this elaborate 30-year con had a direct connection to his struggles with mental illness. And we soon realized we had a film that was much bigger than its art caper foundation. Driven as filmmakers to address issues and ideas through storytelling, we saw the opportunity to address questions of mental health within the context of an inherently compelling story rather than head-on.

“And when we met Matthew Leininger, a tenacious registrar in Cincinnati who’d discovered the ruse, we had our story arc — which only deepened when we learned he was planning an exhibition of Landis’s known forgeries. Landis’s public outing and this show became a structuring device for the film as Landis is forced to confront the legacy of his ‘career’ and the chorus of museum professionals clamoring for him to stop.

“Documentaries often take years to produce (this one has been a three-year labor of love) — and as filmmakers what you look for (before you dig in for the long haul) is a story and set of issues that will hold your interest and curiosity throughout the life of the project so that you stay fresh and inspired by the material. Art and Craft has all those ingredients, and we’re so thrilled to be in a place soon where we’ll be able to share the film at last.”

Art and Craft is co-directed and edited by Mark Becker (Pressure Cooker; Circo; Lost Boys of Sudan) and its producers include Bonni Cohen (The Rape of Europa; The Island President), Julie Goldman (Buck; Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry; Beware of Mr. Baker), Christopher Clements (Manhunt) and Carolyn Hepburn (Manhunt).

The film is in the can and the crowdfunding campaign at Kickstarter is for the usual finishing costs. Check out their video, amusingly starring their siblings as stand-ins, and donate if you’re interested. There’s tax deductible options, too.

ART AND CRAFT, a feature documentary

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.